First-Time Winners Dominate SHL Annual Awards

At the SHL’s fifth annual awards banquet, Commissioner Perry Mitchell continued his annual tradition of handing out trophies honoring the league’s best players and coaches.  As usual, the awards were chosen based on votes from SHL players, coaches, and media. As was the case last year, many of this year’s award winners were first-timers.

During his opening remarks, Commissioner Mitchell cited the recently-completed Finals between the Hamilton Pistols and the Anchorage Igloos as an example of the best the league has to offer.  “It was a series that featured some of the league’s best veterans – players like Steven Alexander, Jake Frost, Raymond Smyth, and Ty Worthington – right alongside emerging stars like Lasse Koskinen and Tom Hoffman.  The present and the future, playing together on the same ice.  It showed me once again that our league is in good hands, now and for years to come.”

The 2020 award winners are as follows:

Most Valuable Player: C Calvin Frye, Hamilton Pistols

Last season, Frye’s teammate Steven Alexander has a monster second half, led the Pistols to their first-ever SHL title, and was the overwhelming choice as the league’s MVP.  This year, it was Frye who took over the role as the team’s premier offensive option.  It was Frye who led the team to its second straight title and earned Finals MVP honors in the process.  And it is Frye who is the runaway winner of the league MVP award.  Frye finished ahead of Alexander (as well as the rest of the Pistols) in goals (42) and points (77).

“There’s no way that we would have won these titles without Alex; he’s our heart and soul, and his drive sets the tone for the whole team” said Pistols coach Keith Shields.  “But there’s also no way we would have gotten over the hump without Cal, and without him flourishing and blossoming into the superstar he is now.  He’s the puzzle piece that clicked everything into place.”

Others receiving MVP votes included Hershey’s Justin Valentine, Portland’s Eddie Costello, and Anchorage’s Tom Hoffman

Rookie of the Year: RW Bengt Frederiksson, Kansas City Smoke

This award comes as little surprise; when Frederiksson was chosen with the first overall pick in the draft, he was considered one of the league’s best-ever scoring prospects.  The Swedish-born winger didn’t disappoint, finishing in the top 10 in the league in points with 71 (two points shy of the SHL rookie record set last year by Boston’s Alain Beauchesne).  In a down year for scoring around the league, Frederiksson still finished with 28 goals, and displayed a surprisingly deft passing touch with 43 assists.  It’s the second year in a row that a Smoke player claimed the Rookie of the Year honors; last season, the award went to D Bastien Chouinard.  Thanks in no small part to Frederiksson’s offensive spark, Kansas City jumped 21 points and moved from last place to fourth in the standings.

“Bengt gave our top line a whole new spark,” said Smoke coach Randy Bergner.  “Just look at his speed, his incredible shot, and his creativity.  He just transformed our offense.  He’s still figuring some things out, but watching him gives me hope.  We’re starting to resemble a real, functioning hockey team, and that’s pretty cool.”

Frederiksson received a stiff challenge for the award from Dakota D Brady Prussian, who raised eyebrows by recording 11 goals and 25 points in just half a season.  Other vote-getters included Hamilton’s Elvis Bodett, Boston’s Levi Rudyard, and Hershey’s Nash Gould.

Coach of the Year: Kyle Barrow, Boston Badgers

2020 was Barrow’s first season as a head coach, after many years as an assistant in Anchorage.  he made an auspicious debut in a number of ways.  The Badgers saw a dramatic improvement in their on-ice fortunes, jumping from 45 points to 64 and finishing with a .500 record for the first time in franchise history.  Barrow also turned around what had been a toxic and hard-partying clubhouse, getting the team to focus on playing hard and winning games.  On a personal level, the coach was a trailblazer; he is the first openly gay figure in the league.

Barrow dedicated his win to his husband, Jim, and to the LGBTQ community.  “Even though the world is changing, there’s still a lot of prejudice out there and a lot of barriers for us, especially in sports,” said Barrow.  “But I’m here to say that there are no limits to what you can achieve.  And I hope that if there are young queer kids out there who dream of being a player or a coach someday, they can see me and know that it can happen.”

Other finalists included Hamilton’s Keith Shields, Portland’s Harold Engellund, and Anchorage’s Sam Castor.

Sharp Shooter Award: C Calvin Frye, Hamilton Pistols

The Sharp Shooter Award is one of two awards that is not given out base on the outcome of a vote.  Instead, the honor is awarded to the player who finishes the season with the highest goal total. This year’s winner was Frye, whose 42 goals in the 2020 season allowed him to finish three goals ahead of his nearest competitors, Alexander and New York’s Brock Manning.

Frye is the first player to win the MVP and the Sharp Shooter Award in the same season.  (Last year, Alexander won the MVP and the Commissioner’s Trophy.)  With the Pistols taking home the Vandy as well, it’s a highly decorated year for the 25-year-old center.

“This year has been an amazing ride for me and for the whole team,” said Frye.  “I can’t wait to see what we get done together next year!  Maybe we can make it three in a row.”

Alexander paid tribute to his younger teammate, saying, “It can be hard sometimes when you have two alphas on a team, but it’s not like that with us.  We complement each other’s game, and we’re both focused on creating the best opportunities for the team.”

Commissioner’s Trophy: LW Lance Sweet, Hershey Bliss and LW Chase Winchester, New York Night

Similar to the Sharp Shooter Award, the Commissioner’s Trophy is not awarded based on the result of a vote.  Instead, the award goes to the player who finishes with the highest point total.  For the second season in a row, this award was split between two players.

Sweet is a first-time award winner.  Skating on Hershey’s high-powered “Love Line”, Sweet racked up plenty of assists facilitating for Justin Valentine and Christopher Hart, in addition to scoring plenty of goals in his own right.  He finished the season with 84 points, including 57 assists (the third-highest total in the league) and 27 goals (second on the Bliss, behind Valentine).

“It’s great that Lance won this award, because he doesn’t get enough recognition,” said Valentine.  “He’s the ultimate team player.  When we need someone to create and set us up, he’s there with a perfect pass right on the tape.  When we need someone to generate offense, he can create his own shot and drive it home with the best of them.  If we need somebody to get along the wall and dig pucks out, he’s there for that too.  He’s a super-utility player.”

Winchester claims the award for the second year in a row and the third time overall.  He has long been one the SHL’s top assist men, regularly feeding high-scoring linemates Manning and Rick Nelson.  He once again led the league in assists with 68, seven ahead of the second-place finisher, Hamilton’s Claude Lafayette.  Thanks to his league league-leading assist haul, the 33-year-old Winchester was able to tie Sweet atop the points leaderboard.

“I’m getting to the backside of my career,” said Winchester.  “And what I want more than anything is to win a Vandy.  But until that happens, I’m glad that I can at least get some props for my passing prowess.”

Goalie of the Year: Ty Worthington, Anchorage Igloos

Historically, this award has belonged to Dirk Lundquist.  The Michigan goaltender had won this award three of the previous four seasons.  However, Lundquist (and the Wolves) had a down year in 2020, opening the field to other contenders.  This time around, the award went to Worthington, Lundquist’s close friend and netminder for the Wolves’ longtime rival in Anchorage.  Worthington had a typically terrific season, going 27-15-4 with a 2.40 GAA and a .926 save percentage.  Those marks are good enough to rank him first in the SHL in save percentage, second in GAA, and third in wins.

“Ty has always been one of the league’s top goalies,” said Igloos coach Sam Castor.  “But he’s always had to stand in The Bear’s shadow.  Finally, this season, Ty is able to get some of the recognition that he deserves.”

Other finalists for the award included Portland’s Jesse Clarkson, Quebec’s Riki Tiktuunen, and Lundquist.

Defenseman of the Year: Reese Milton, Hershey Bliss

This honor has been a long time in coming.  Milton has long been recognized as one of the SHL’s elite blueliners, but year after year, he would come up frustratingly short in the voting for the award.  He has been a finalist for the award every year in which it has been awarded, and he has come in second in the voting three times.  But this year is the first time Milton has actually won the award, getting the nod over Saskatchewan’s Wyatt Barnes in a close vote.  Milton’s two-way brilliance was just too much for the voters to ignore this time around: his 48 assists and 64 points were tops among blueliners, and his 16 goals tied him for second at the position, while his 150 blocks were second-most in the league.

“Wait, I actually won?!” said Milton, upon learning of his award.  “I didn’t think that was allowed!  I thought maybe the voters were biased against squirrels.  I thought I was always going to be the bridesmaid, never the bride.  Not literally, because I’ve never been an actual bridesmaid.  But you know what I mean.”

In addition to Barnes, other award finalists included Boston’s Matt Cherner, Portland’s Benny Lambert, and Milton’s teammate Jean-Luc Aubin.

Angry Badgers Fans Nearly Start Riot Over Pizza Denied

Fans of the Boston Badgers get their excitement where they can.  In the Badgers’ first two seasons of existence, they finished dead last.  This season, the team has made some significant upgrades – including midseason trades for LW Casey Thurman and RW Gordon Lunsford – but they still have a sub-.500 record and are a long shot to make the playoffs.  But while they may have much hope for the postseason, Boston fans have something else to get excited about.  A local pizza chain runs a promotion for all home games: if the Badgers win and score five or more goals, all fans in attendance can bring in their ticket stubs to get a free pizza the next day.

Needless to say, the promotion is hugely popular.  When the Badgers are sitting on four goals late in the game, chants of “Piz-za! Piz-za!” will echo throughout Shawmut Arena.  After that, every save by the opposing goaltender is met with robust boos.  When the fans are denied their shot at free pizza, things can get ugly.  And on Tuesday, when a questionable call by a referee wiped the pizza-winning goal off the board, the fans nearly rioted.

Up to that point, the crowd had been in a good mood.  The Badgers were hosting the Western Division leaders, the Portland Bluebacks, and the home team was well on its way to a surprising rout.  Boston goalie Roger Orion stopped every Portland shot, while the Badgers scored repeatedly. After D Brett Stolte scored Boston’s fourth goal less than five minutes into the third, only one question remained: would the fans get their much-desired pie?

Lix Darnholm

As the game reached its closing minutes, the familiar “Piz-za! Piz-za!” chant rang from the rafters.  And with two and a half minutes remaining, it appeared that the fans would go home happening.  Boston broke loose on an odd-man rush that ended with LW Lix Darnholm firing a shot that trickled between the pads of Bluebacks netminder Jesse Clarkson and trickled toward the net.  As the puck crossed the line, Darnholm and a Portland defender crashed into the goal and dislodged it from its moorings.  The goal siren went off and the crowd went wild, with visions of pepperoni dancing in their heads.

But referee Brandon Fosse called for a review to see whether the puck crossed the line before the net came loose.  The crowd booed as Fosse watched replays for several minutes.  And when Fosse came back to center ice and announced that the goal didn’t count, the mood turned furious.  A new chant filled the air: “Bull-s***!  Bull-s***!”  About a minute later, a tense situation turned worse when Fosse sent Stolte to the penalty box for elbowing, essentially ending Boston’s chance at a fifth goal.  Fans began throwing coins and beer cups onto the ice.  A couple people even ran down the aisles and tried to climb the glass to assault Fosse; they were ejected from the arena.

The game ended with a 4-0 Badgers victory, but no pizza.  Irate fans continued to aim obscene chants at the refs and bombard the ice with debris.  Fosse and his crew needed a police escort to escape unscathed.

After the game, Badgers coach Kyle Barrow admonished the fans for their reaction.  “Look, I understand the allure of free pizza,” the coach noted.  “But come on, if you can afford a ticket to the game, you can afford your own pizza, right?  And there’s no excuse for threatening the refs.  You can be unhappy about a call without turning into a mob.”

Stolte, on the other hand, seemed impressed by the fans’ wrath.  “You don’t want to mess with these fans, boy!” enthused Stolte.  “We’re a team with an edge, and I love that our crowds have an edge too.  Get between them and their pizza, and… well, sucks to be you.”

Interview of the Week: Kyle Barrow

This week’s interview is with Boston Badgers coach Kyle Barrow.

SHL Digest: We’re talking today with the newest member of the SHL coaching fraternity, Kyle Barrow!  Kyle, thanks for talking with us.

Kyle Barrow

Kyle Barrow: I’m excited!  It’s a fun opportunity.

SHLD: For the last few years, you’ve earned a reputation in the SHL as the one hot assistant who wasn’t looking to move up.  You were the assistant coach in Anchorage, and it seemed like your name came up every time there was a coaching vacancy, but every time, you pulled your name out of the search.

KB: (laughs) The international man of mystery!

SHLD: Obviously, this led to some theories.  One was that you’d been promised you would succeed Sam Castor whenever he retired as coach of the Igloos.  Another was that you were waiting for just the right opportunity to make your coaching debut.  So tell us: What’s the true story?

KB: Honestly, you [reporters] and my mom have a lot in common.  When I was single, she was always asking me when I was going to settle down and get married.  And every time I got asked about head coaching, I heard my mom’s voice in my head.  “When are you going to find a nice team and settle down?  You know you can’t be an assistant forever!  It’s not healthy.”  For a while, I was getting it with both barrels!

SHLD: The cycle of nagging, basically.

KB: (laughs) Love you, Mom!  But you know it’s true.

SHLD: Shout out to Kyle’s mom!

KB: The truth is, the answer was the same in both cases: I just wasn’t ready yet.  I was still learning things from Sam, and I felt like if I left too soon to take a coaching job, I’d miss out on some good lessons.

SHLD: So you’ve decided that now you’ve learned enough.

KB: Really, Sam decided it.  He’s been nudging me for a while now that it’s time.  And when Boston came calling, I was going to turn it down.  But Sam said, “I really think you should give this one a shot.  You’re ready for this.”  So I listened, and here I am!

SHLD: It’s interesting that you make the analogy between coaching and your romantic life, because as you announced this week, you’re a trailblazer in that area: you’re the first openly gay head coach in professional sports.  Why did you choose to announce it now?

KB: I felt like it was the right time.  For a long time, my attitude was that it was my own business.  I didn’t go out of my way to hide that I was, but I didn’t go around talking about it.

SHLD: Did people on the Igloos know?

KB: Sure.  Sam definitely knew; he’s met my husband!  And some of the players knew.  No one had a problem with it.  But I didn’t see the need to talk about it publicly.

SHLD: What changed your mind?

KB: It was after my press conference introducing me as the Badgers’ coach.  After it was over, Jim – my husband – came up and told me that he’d wanted to be there, but he hadn’t come because he didn’t want to cause me trouble.  And that got me thinking; if my own husband didn’t feel like he could be there on the biggest night of my life, is that fair to him?  And I thought about how much it would have meant to me as a young hockey player starting to understand who I was, to know that a leader in my sport was gay too, and it was okay.

SHLD: How has the reaction been?

KB: It’s been great.  The players have told me that they’re behind me, and that it won’t be a problem in the locker room.  And the public reaction has been supportive, too.  I’m sure there will be some knuckle-draggers on the road who try to give me crap about it, but who cares about them?

SHLD: Oh yeah, before we forget, you’ve got this new team too!  What do you think of them so far?

KB: Oh, right, them!  (laughs)  I’m really excited about the group we have.  We’re still in the learning stages, but I can’t wait until we get rolling!

SHLD: Sounds good!  Well, thanks for the time and a thought-provoking interview.

KB: I’m glad you asked!

SHL Season Begins with Scoreless Tie

The 2020 SHL season officially started just after noon Eastern time on Sunday, when the Hershey Bliss and Boston Badgers faced off at the Chocolate Center.  Prior to the game, the Bliss started a pool on which player would score the season’s first goal, recording their predictions and dollar amounts on a white board in the locker room.  C Justin Valentine and LW Lance Sweet were the most popular picks.  In the visiting clubhouse, the Badgers didn’t have a similar pool going, but their players were equally aware of the possibility.

“Scoring the first goal of the season… that would be a really awesome way to begin,” said C Alain Beauchesne.

Little did the Badgers or Bliss realize that 65 minutes would pass without either team lighting the lamp.  No one collected on Hershey’s first-goal pool, as the game ended with the same 0-0 score as it started.

“You know how they say that a tie is like kissing your sister?” said Bliss coach “Chocolate Chip” Barber.  “This game was like marrying your sister.”

Both teams had their chances to score.  In the first five minutes of the game, Valentine and RW Christopher Hart got loose on an odd-man rush.  Hart fed the pass to Valentine in the slot, and the center fired a shot toward the upper-right corner of the net.  Badgers goalie Roger Orion, though, stuck out his glove and snagged the blast.

“I was already counting my winnings in my head,” said Valentine ruefully.

Later in the period, Hershey D Wayne Snelling was penalized for interference, putting Boston on the power play.  Badgers LW Lix Darnholm fired a laser beam of a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle.  Bliss netminder Christien Adamsson got a piece of the shot, but it trickled behind him toward the goal line.  Fortunately for the Bliss, Adamsson fell back on the puck before the Badgers could jam it home.

After a fairly sleepy first forty minutes – Hershey had 14 shots across the first two periods, and Boston only nine – the action picked up in the third.  Unfortunately for both teams, the frustrations piled up as well.  On three separate occasions, the Bliss fired shots that hit the post, two of them by Sweet.  On the Boston side, C Derek Humplik fired a shot that beat Adamsson, but pinged off the crossbar.

“It just seemed like there was some invisible force keeping it out of the net,” said Badgers coach Kyle Barrow.  “It was pretty annoying.”

In the overtime session, Boston dominated the play, outshooting Hershey 6-1.  But they still couldn’t dent the scoreboard.  The closest attempt was a Beauchesne slapshot that sailed just above the net.

After the game, Barber praised the play of Adamsson, who turned aside all 25 Boston shots in his Hershey debut.  “This is exactly what we brought Christien here to do,” said Barber.  “It’s not his fault that we couldn’t provide him any support.”

“Definitely a weird way to start the season,” said Valentine.  “But you just have to put it behind you and move on.  It’s not like we’re going to go scoreless for the whole season.”

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